The firms Ter Meulen, Wassen and Van Vorst plan to construct a building with a facade almost 100 metres in length opposite the Piet van Reeuwijk building, the red steel frame of which is rising from the ground on Binnenweg. This is where the new shopping centre behind Coolsingel starts.
The collaboration between these three retail firms is laudable. For this building, in which each company will operate its own business, will be a combined structure, a splendid addition to the heart of the shopping area. It will dominate a widening of the street of up to 30 metres. The scheme is planned to be three floors tall, while a fourth floor is reserved ‘for better times’. The three sections beneath one roof will be separated by removable glazed partitions. As if to say: a man or woman can enter Ter Meulen to be clothed and fitted with shoes and all sorts of male and female accessories, and then enter the biggest shoe shop in the country as a finely attired citizen, and then leave Van Vorst.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 19 January 1949
Three in one
Three shops that joined forces to develop a new building was a brave undertaking. But it proved a success. The three collaborating shops had been housed in the Dijkzigt temporary retail complex. Ter Meulen and Wassen were even next door to each other. The three were housed in different places before the war. In 1921 Ter Meulen had opened a new department store of its own on Hoogstraat. The shop had 32 departments on three floors with 100 employees. Hendricus Bernardus Johannes ter Meulen had started out small, opening a drapery store on the corner of Nieuwe Markt and Halstraat on 26 September 1897. His strategy was to focus on low prices, special batches and striking ads. Ter Meulen died suddenly in 1925, leaving behind a wife and ten children. His widow continued running the business, and in 1936 Ernst ter Meulen became director. Frans Wassen had a specialist store in baby clothing and women’s clothing, and had been located on Goudsesingel since 1929. J.J. van Vorst opened a shoe shop in Rotterdam before 1850. In 1940 the company had three stores. Martin’s cafeteria, which opened on Coolsingel in 1938, was also invited to join the new development.
There is a sense of openness in this building. It has an open character, like an honest person. It hides nothing. One recognizes it immediately. Sleek horizontal lines that indicate the floors. No heavy walls to support the structure but everything resting on concrete columns, while some volumes appear to be suspended in mid-air. Even so, this is not a glass palace. The fenestration is elegantly interrupted by sections of wall, which with their partial covering of glazed stone offer a colourful contrast. This building expresses strength, but it is not a threatening strength, not that of a factory or barracks. There is no false tradition, no weariness in this building. That’s more or less how one should view it, how one could organize one’s thoughts. Much specialist terminology can therefore be happily avoided.
Our city now boasts a valuable attraction.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 1 March 1951
The new building for the three firms was designed by the architecture office Van den Broek and Bakema, which at the time was also working on the Lijnbaan. Jo van den Broek went on a study tour to the United States, but he dismissed the idea of a totally windowless department store with artificial light only, as was the latest trend there. The blank exterior features strip windows along the ceiling edges, with an occasional expanse of glass in the facade. The ground floor is one huge display window.
The building is 100 metres long and 29 deep, so that each of the three shops has its own shopfront. The entrances to the shops are clearly marked by a large, vertical expanse of glazing. The shops are separated from one another by large glazed walls. There are three retail floors: the basement and two floors above, connected by stairs, escalators and lifts. The top floor was reserved for service spaces such as storerooms, offices and canteens. An additional floor was considered even during construction, making a fourth retail level possible. The floors were so tall that a mezzanine could be inserted at the rear for storage spaces, offices and service stairs.
The complex is supported by a concrete structure with as few columns as possible. A mezzanine on the eastern side housed Martin’s Cafeteria. This tearoom had a balcony and a separate entrance.
In 1954 Ter Meulen launched a mail-order firm. Some of its storage space was located in the RAC garage. In 1969 it acquired its own depot in the Spaansepolder area. The store flourished in the 1960s and 1970s and opened branches in Spijkenisse, Dordrecht, Almere, Zoetermeer and Rotterdam-Oosterhof. The expansion was also noticeable in the building on Binnenwegplein. As early as 1963, Ter Meulen had taken over Wassen and added this space to the department store. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the Lijnbaan was extended to Binnenwegplein. As a result, Martin’s Cafeteria and the special open corner with terrace disappeared. A sort of bridge building connected Ter Meulen and De Klerk, containing an exhibition space for the Rotterdam Arts Council called the Lijnbaan Centre. New entrances to the two department stores, a comic-book store (De berenkuil) and a cinema were added to the basement. Everything was designed by Van den Broek and Bakema. They also extended Ter Meulen in 1977. The possibility of adding an additional floor was made use of with a sleek, contemporary two-floor roof volume that also housed a lunchroom. Everything was finished by 1979 and Ter Meulen boasted an additional 4,000 m2 of retail space.
In 1974 the offices on Binnenwegplein were added. By the late 1980s, however, the Ter Meulen retail formula was nearing its end. Van Vorst also ceased operations. From 1989 on, parts of the store were let to other retailers, and in 1993, after 96 years, the company went bankrupt. After a thorough renovation in 1993, the building housed 'De Grote Lijn', a new retail concept that proved unsuccessful. Chains such as H&M and Zara ensured that the building has always retained its retail function.
In the early 21st century there were plans to demolish the building, but Ibelings van Tilburg Architects opted for renovation in combination with new development on top. The two floors added in 1979 were demolished and replaced by a lightweight structure of steel and timber. The two towers, different in height, are connected by a lower volume with a shared garden, and contain 114 apartments. Parking spaces are provided on two levels on the roof of the existing building.
The retail space is mostly occupied by the American department store chain TK Maxx. H&M and Zara also have shops in the building.